Thursday, September 30, 2010

Judge Smith Remands Elias Market Zoning Appeal

When Northampton County Judge Edward Smith first heard oral arguments about the proposed expansion of Bethlehem's Elias Farmers Market, he hinted that the parties need to sit down and talk. "It seems neighbors and owners have different views of what is going on," he remarked as lawyers tossed terms like "use variances" and "dimensional variances" as expertly as we all toss salad from the fresh produce supplied by this locally-owned market. Yesterday, Judge Smith sent the parties a stronger signal in the form a forty-four page opinion sending the proposed expansion back to the Zoning Hearing Board.

In exhaustive detail, Judge Smith affirms a ZHB ruling granting variances that will permit Elias Farmers' Market to expand its warehouse and build a safer loading dock. But he also remands the matter because zoners failed to consider or grant a special exception. He notes that "the criteria for a dimensional variance are focused more specifically on the subject property, while the criteria for special exception use focus on the use of the property and the impact of that use on the surrounding neighborhood." He also notes, ominously, that the proposed expansion may violate the setback requirements in the Zoning Ordinance.

In other words, he wants them to sit down and listen to each other. The Elias family has already conducted one open house, but most neighbors who oppose the expansion were unable to appear.

Judge Smith's opinion is below:Elias Market Opinion

Bethlehem Zoners Nix Parking Lot For LU Students

After a two-hour hearing, Bethlehem's Zoning Hearing Board last night unanimously rejected a Southside landlord's request for an 8-car macadam parking lot at the rear of four Webster Street properties he rents to Lehigh students. Donald Miller, who owns 419-421-423-425 Webster Street, replaced their grass back yards over the years with a gravel lot for the convenience of the twenty students who rent from him on Webster Street. He never obtained a permit, and told zoners that there are "numerous parking places like that." He did acknowledge that Zoning Officer John Lezoche had been talking to him for the past two or three years before finally issuing a cease and desist order. "I think someone complained," Miller guessed.

That would be retired DeSales professor Justice Thomas, who owns a rental property at 212 E Morton, directly south of Miller's Webster Street properties. Taking the oath, he was asked, "Do you swear by Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, that the testimony you're about to give shall be the truth and nothing but the truth?"

"Thank you," he answered.

It's the thought that counts.

Thomas has been renting to Lehigh's international community since the '70s, and began experiencing problems when Miller installed his gravel parking lot. He now experiences flooding in his basement "every time there is a heavy rain," something that never occurred before. The sidewalk in front of his home has deteriorated. He testified that are usually 13-14 cars crammed into the lot, and these cars back out onto narrow East Morton Street. "There are children in the area," he complained. He also noted the glare of headlights flooding into one of his apartments. He stated, "I cannot go near my wall to fix something."

Miller assured zoners that a macadam parking lot would direct water flow into the street instead of Thomas' home, and lining would provide a turn around so that cars would not back out onto Morton Street. Attorney Joe Piperato, who represented Miller, sought numerous variances. He wanted their blessing on 8' wide parking stalls, a 13' wide driving aisle, no setbacks and no screening to shield glare. Conceding that Miller failed to meet the technical requirements for a variance, Piperato argued that "Miller is willing to spend $20 thousand to help the City with a serious problem. This is all about parking, gentleman."

Southside landlord Jerry Fasnacht agreed, noting that the library on Webster Street and a five-story apartment building place a "big demand on parking. Miller is taking cars off the streets."

Attorney Bill Leeson, who was taught by Mr. Miller, is now his lawyer and had the winning argument. He told zoners that Miller is seeking "multiple, substantial variances for a plan that does not work."

In other business, zoners quickly approved Jared Moyer's request for a dimensional variance from the Steep Slope requirements of the Zoning Ordinance, approving a building lot at 735 Hillside Avenue that is only 1/10th the size allowed. They also allowed a variance from the 18 on-lot parking places required for a Resources for Human Development meeting room and office at 425-427 E. Fourth Street, conditioned upon their willingness to obtain permits for those parking spaces on a nearby city-owned parking lot, located at 3rd and Filmore Streets. Zoner Ken Kraft recused himself in that matter.

Senator Orie, Facing Criminal Charges, Begins to Sag in Polls

With just thirty-two days left before the November 2 election, criminally indicted Senator Jane Orie has dropped below 50% in a Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies Poll. Criminal charges that she used her campaign office and state resources for personal and political gain, have begun to take a toll. But if she loses her state senate race, she's a shoe-in for a starring role in the next Exorcist moview.

Despite overwhelming name recognition, Jane Orie fails to reach 50% on the current vote. Once voters are reminded of Orie’s criminal indictment, she trails DeMarco by three points (45% DeMarco/ 42% Orie).

Jane Orie now has a net-unfavorable rating among voters. Orie is now viewed unfavorably by 45% of voters, including 23% who have a very unfavorable view of her. Only 44% have a favorable view of Orie. More troubling for Orie is that 71% of undecided voters have an unfavorable view of her, leaving little room for the possibility of vote expansion.

Jane Orie’s negative job rating is nearly equal to her positive job rating. Voters give Orie a 49% positive/ 42% negative job rating, far below the crucial two-to-one ratio considered safe for incumbents. Among undecided voters, Orie fares far worse, with only a 32% positive/ 57% negative job rating.

“Over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of talking with people from across the 40th district, and this poll confirms a constant theme from the campaign trail—my message of ending the culture of corruption in Harrisburg has be resonating with voters,” says her opponent, Dan DeMarco. “We cannot be serious about reforming our state government if we continue to re-elect the very people who are part of the problem.”

Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies conducted 401 interviews with randomly-selected likely 2010 General Election voters in Pennsylvania’s 40th State Senate District. Interviews were conducted between September 19-22, 2010. Expected margin of sampling error for these results +/-4.9% with a 95% confidence level.

Dent Gets Primary Foe's Endorsement

Former Republican candidate for Congress and LV Tea Party darling Mat Benol has endorsed Charlie Dent for Congress in the general election. Benol ran in the Republican primary this Spring.

“I confidently give my endorsement to Congressman Dent for his re-election to Congress,” Benol said. “Congressman Dent and I ran campaigns which focused on the issues. He has listened to my reasons for running in the Republican Primary and I have learned of the difficulties facing our elected leaders. I am confident Congressman Dent will continue to serve his constituents and America because unlike the current Administration, he is listening. I am glad that I had the opportunity to run for Congress as a Republican and I am proud to say that I endorse Charlie Dent in his re-election to Congress.”

“I’m pleased to receive Mat’s endorsement,” said Congressman Dent. “In the course of many conversations with him – including our civil candidate forums during the primary — I found him to be an honorable man whose interest is righting the course of our country. Like so many Americans, Mat is engaged in the political process because he is concerned with the massive government expansion of the past few years, which I will continue to fight against. Mat’s endorsement means a lot to me, because I know he’s not interested in party politics, but in common-sense government.”

When I attended a meeting for conservative candidates this Spring, Benol spoke fondly of his two daughters. Even I ended up liking the guy. I hope he does stay involved in local government issues. You can read more about the endorsement at Pennsylvania Avenue and at Jon Geeting's LVIndependent. Of course, Jon somehow concludes this is more evidence that Dent is in trouble. Maybe Charlie should withdraw, huh?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

House Dems Stonewalling Rangel & Waters Ethics Complaints

Charlie Dent is a Republican member of the House Ethics Committee.
House Ethics Committee

CNN, Rothenberg Report: Callahan Won't Dent Dent

CNN gets its facts wrong. It inaccurately claims John Callahan raised Bethlehem's sales tax. Callahan certainly promoted the idea, but failed. CNN correctly concludes that the Bethlehem Mayor is perceived by many as a "big spending, big deficits" Democrat. Bethlehem has been awash in red ink for the past two years.

The Rothenberg Report also rates this race as "Republican favored."

State House & Senate Candidate Forum This Thursday at NCC

When polls open in just 33 days, we'll be deciding a Congressional, U.S. Senate and Governor's race. Those are the biggies. But there are also several contested state house and senate races here in the Lehigh Valley. Many of them will be available for questioning on Thursday, 11 AM, at Northampton Community College's Laub Lounge, which is located on the second floor of the College Center. (Directions here.)

You're welcome to attend. All LV State House and Senate Candidates have been invited. Following an opening statement, the floor opens to questions from the public.

131st: Justin Simmons is shadow boxing Michael Horton over the seat being vacated by Karen Beyer. Simmons has knocked on 87 gazillion doors. It would be 88 gazillion, but his mom wants him home by 7 PM every night. Horton thinks all he has to do is say, "I went to West Point," and he's in. But he's not running in the Lehigh, not Hudson, Valley.

133rd: Incumbent Joe Brennan, 18' feet tall, and acupuncturist Dave Molony, are the wits of this crew. I think they should have a yo' mama' laugh off. This race was over before it started. Joe's district is about 99.999% Democratic, and the other 0.001% is Communist.

136th: Incumbent Bob Freeman is in serious trouble. You see, Ron Shegda is actually Jesus in disguise. At least that's what he says. Must be one helluva' disguise.

137th: This is Rich Grucela's seat. Charles "Don't call me Charlie" Dertinger will have an opportunity to use his trademark "Good Day!" and really impress the hell out of LV natives with his NY accent. Opponent Joe Emrick, a teacher, may be stuck in a classroom. This is my district, and I gotta' tell you, these two candidates are an excellent argument for a "none of the above" choice in the ballot box. I can't do that, but I can still vote for Grucela.

183rd: Incumbent Julie Harhart, who has been in office since 467 BCE, is going against Green Party candidate Rex D'Agostino. He's a doctor, you know. He's only been in the LV for 5 years, but he rescues greyhounds and everything.

134th: Incumbent and former Assistant DA Doug Reichley is running against Patrick Slattery, who says he "has nearly 20 years of community service experience providing leadership for a local not-for-profit organization." That's nice, but Patrick never bothers telling us the name of that non-profit. He does mention quite a few other non-profits on a deceptive campaign web page implying that outfits like DeSales University and the Lower Macungie Youth Association have endorsed him.

Waiting in the wings is independent Carl Stevenson, whose ballot access appeal is still being considered by the state Supremes.

187th: Incumbent Gary Day, whose ethics statements reveal he receives outside income from the Fred Jaindl estate, is running against Richard Stine. According to blogger David Najarian, he asked Day to explain that Jaindl income two years ago. "The answer I got was a tongue lashing from some for asking the question in public. The tongue lashing caused me to resign as GOP committee person as I am a voter first. I then asked the question privately and got also no answer. I am persona-non-grata in the party methinks."

I'll give you a run down on the state senate races tomorrow.

Allentown, Where Justice Is Delayed and Denied

LVCI has posted a disturbing blog about an Allentown woman who was assaulted and left for dead. Allentown's finest actually arrested the guy on unrelated charges, but released him and let him roam the streets for a year. They only acted after the victim went to CBS News. Not only did the police fail in its mission to protect, but local media outlets also dropped the ball. A Philly news outlet had to break a story that was missed by The Morning Call and local blogosphere.

Allentown has a problem, and it's pretty clear that this problem stems from an undermanned police department. I thought this might be a good time to repeat a story I first told you over two years ago.
On Monday, I met congressional candidate Sam Bennett's 78 year-old newspaper delivery man. I'll call him Mr. A. He has asked me to keep his name and address off this post. He is afraid. He has reason to be afraid. From Bennett to Allentown police to the Morning Call itself, Mr. A has clearly been ignored. Old folks seem to mean very little to them.

Background

Let me tell you a little bit about Mr. A. When I visited him on Monday in west Allentown, the first thing I noticed was his yard. Every square inch was growing lettuce and other edibles. When I walked inside his modest home, vegetables of all kinds were growing all over the place. Mr. A is on a vegan diet. While I was at his home, a nice lady and her pretty young daughter dropped by with a few vegan meals. He promised to repay their kindness with plenty of veggies in a few weeks. I was thinking about cheeseburgers.

Mr. A speaks three different languages, is well-educated and was employed as a professional before his retirement. He began work as a newspaper delivery man so that he could control his high blood pressure. He had trouble staying on an exercise program, but the delivery job did the trick. In a month, his blood pressure was perfect.

Mugging on Bennett's Porch

On October 27th, at 4:30 AM, Mr. A had just picked up his newspapers and was starting his route. His very first home is the Historic Benner Home owned by congressional candidate Sam Bennett. As Mr. A ascended the steps, he was grabbed from behind and thrown onto the steps like a rag doll. A Hispanic-looking man, between 25 and 35, simply said "Money! I need money." He tussled with this fellow, who was wearing a long jacket between beige and orange in color along with some sort of black cloth on his head. During the encounter, Mr. A noticed that Sam Bennett had opened one of her windows and was watching the incident. By the time she came outside, the assailant was gone. He had taken about $20, a driver's license and a credit card.

Sam Bennett and Mr. A agreed about the description of his assailant. She commiserated with him, telling him she had been robbed herself. She promised to call police. Mr. A sat on her porch and waited thirty minutes. No police officer showed up, so he finished his route, went home and called police himself. He also called Bennett to ask why she never called the police, but all he got was her voice mail. Officer Heiserman came to Mr. A's home and took a statement (Complaint 07-90144). At this point, Mr. A learned that no one had called police before his own call.

Mr. A Disputes Sam Bennett's Stories

Sam Bennett actually has two explanations for this incident. At first, she was somewhat incredulous. "I broke up that mugging. What are you talking about? I've even called in stabbings. We are the first ones to call in disturbances. He [Mr. A] was getting mugged on my front steps, and I went outside in my pajamas and broke it up. I made sure he was OK. I told him to stop delivering the paper in the dark. He was traumatized. I stayed in communication with him throughout that whole thing. I was not the one who called the dispatcher. I get my paper later now. I told him not to deliver until it is lighter."

Later that day, she sent me an email to "add" to her original story, although it appears to be inconsistent with her original statement. "Living as we do next door to the Hotel Traylor, my husband and I over the years have found ourselves calling the police frequently about stabbings, gunshots, street fights and more. When I jumped out of bed and flung open the front door of our home early that morning, I incorrectly assumed it was yet another drunken interaction on our front steps. My response was to admonish the misbehavers and send them home. I did not know that our newspaper man had actually been mugged until the next day when he and I spoke on the phone. I’m glad I opened my door and hopefully prevented further harm from being committed in response to the noise I heard. But in hindsight I wish that I had known what was really happening, because in that event I would have called the police.”

I read each explanation to Mr. A. After hearing Version #1, Mr. A simply stated, "That is false." Once I read Version #2, Mr. A quietly responded, "This is a lie, too."

Morning Call Screws Up its Story, Too!

The day after the mugging, the Morning Call did run a story, asking anyone with information to call the police. But instead of reporting that Mr. A was robbed at the Historic Benner Home, the paper erroneously listed Mr. A's own address. After many calls, the paper finally ran a brief correction to indicate that the robbery had actually occurred at 25 South 15th Street. That was November 10.

Allentown Police Conduct Shoddy Investigation

In addition to losing $20, Mr. A also lost a credit card. Right after calling police, Mr. A also called his credit card company. He was told the card had already been used three times at two different locations - the Sunoco at 12th & Hamilton and the 7-11 at 7th & Linden. Mr. A visited both stores to see if there were any surveillance photos. Sunoco had surveillance videos, but refused to show them to Mr. A, claiming they could only show them to police.

But thank heaven for 7-11. The manager took pity on Mr. A, and gave him a computer copy of a photo of Mr. A's assailant, taken as A's credit card was used to purchase cartons of cigarettes. You can see a grainy copy of that photo at the top of this blog.

Mr. A immediately called police, but they told him they "didn't have time to look." They refused to go to either store. He was told he would have to wait for a detective.

A neighbor, who works for the Lehigh County District Attorney, told him her office has detectives, and two of them soon visited Mr. A. Although they lack jurisdiction to investigate, they at least made sure that an Allentown detective, Thomas Anderson, was assigned to the case.

Unfortunately, Detective Anderson has had no time to investigate this matter, either. "I told him those videos don't last forever, but Anderson claimed he doesn't have time." When Mr. A showed Detective Anderson the picture he obtained on his own, the investigator snapped, "You're not supposed to have that." Anderson did eventually send a written request for the videos. But it was too late. The videos are gone.

In the meantime, Mr. A actually saw his assailant in the Hotel Traylor lobby. He called for Detective Anderson, who was unavailable. He spoke to Anderson's boss, who told him they were "too busy" to do anything.

Mr. A finally called Congressman Charlie Dent. He tells me Dent called some Allentown official in his presence and in no uncertain terms told him to do his job.

Not long after that, Detective Anderson did stop by Mr. A's home with a picture. Mr. A was at the hospital undergoing tests. His high blood pressure has returned. "The magic is gone." Mr. A has since visited the police department repeatedly to try and see Anderson, but he's always too busy, working a different shift, in the middle of an interview, etc.

Mr. A believes Allentown police are making the city "a paradise for the criminals." Given what he's gone through, I can understand his reluctance to give his name or precise address. It's more likely he will be visited by his assailant than a cop.

Morning Call Has No Regard For Robbed Carrier

The Morning Call demonstrated its disdain for Mr. A from the onset. It failed to publish the address where the robbery occurred, instead listing the home address of its own carrier. I asked him how the paper reacted. "Nobody approached me to ask if I was OK. I doubt the higher ups know anything. Those in Circulation just don't care."

Mr. A also tells me the newspaper at one time paid all carriers equally and distributed papers through its trucks. Now different carriers get different pay and he must go to headquarters himself for the paper, and is actually charged rent to put the paper together. "They are losing $4 million a year and are trying to get the money from the carriers." While he gets screwed, Mr. A tells me customers like Sam Bennett get a special discounted rate for her newspaper.

Conclusion

Last week, I told you about the problems Kari Holmes has had getting Allentown police to do anything concerning a racially-motivated assault. Mr. A's experience is even worse. He's been snubbed by a congressional candidate, Allentown police and a newspaper. Despite having a picture of his assailant and seeing him in the Hotel Traylor lobby, he's been ignored. The paper for whom he works offers no condolences and can't even get its report right. And the congressional candidate who was an eyewitness to the robbery has given varying accounts.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Callahan Ducks Chamber of Commerce Debate

If Congressional wannabe John Callahan has established anything, it's that he's a pretty good dodgeball player. He studiously avoided taking a position on the health care overhaul until after it passed. making him a day late and a dollar short. He's had four different positions on the TARP money that Congressman Charlie Dent supported. He's ducked my questions on a regressive national sales tax (while supporting a sales tax increase locally). At a Lafayette College debate, he even refused to say whether he'd support Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker.

Down in the polls, Callahan has supposedly clamored for more debate time, but he ducked a surprisingly good debate sponsored by the local tea party this Spring. Now, he's running from a local debate on jobs and the economy at the very time that Charlie Dent is being endorsed by one of the nation’s leading small business organizations.

On Friday, John Callahan backed out of an Oct. 18 debate with Congressman Dent hosted by the Nazareth/Bath Area, Whitehall Area and Slate Belt Chambers of Commerce. Maybe he's afraid that someone will question him about his own "simple jobs plan," something he was unable to explain at the Lafayette debate.

Also on Friday, the National Federation of Independent Businesses gave their endorsement to Charlie Dent, citing his strong and continued support for policies that help small businesses put people to work, and his opposition to Washington legislation that slows economic growth.

“I’m honored to receive the support of NFIB because they know what small businesses need to create jobs – and they know I will always support policies that help foster economic growth,” said Congressman Charlie Dent in a news release. “Meanwhile, John Callahan knows he can’t answer for the irresponsible, job-killing Washington agenda he supports, and a political career marked by higher taxes and more government spending. Callahan’s policies are the opposite of what job-creators need.”

Gracedale & Cedarbrook: Apples & Oranges

Let's shove all the pious proclamations about "moral obligations" aside. Although LC Director of Administration Tom Muller, and Commissioners Dougherty and Hansell threw that term around last night as though they were at a revival meeting, the simple reality is that county government has no obligation to provide a nursing home. And if Cedarbrook were the $6 million money pit like Gracedale is in Northampton County, there is little doubt in my mind that they'd all be just as sanctimoniously talking about their "moral obligation" to the taxpayer.

But if Muller did anything at last night's Lehigh County budget hearing, he established pretty clearly that Gracedale and Cedarbrook are completely different animals. What makes fiscal sense in Northampton County might actually be foolhardy in Lehigh.

Below you'll see a copy of Muller's handout. He reluctantly handed it to me, complaining that I'm the "pseudo press." Then he grumbled that all I ever do is photograph the back of his head, even though even he agrees it's his better side.

Some Commissioners have suggested that perhaps Lehigh should consider selling or leasing Cedarbrook. Muller gave what Commissioner Bill Hansell repeatedly referred to as an "extraordinarily good presentation." Now Hansell thought everyone gave "extraordinarily good presentations" last night, but Muller was so damn good he even convinced the tea party members in the peanut gallery.

First, he compared the two institutions. Gracedale has a two star rating, while Cedarbrook has a four star rating. Gracedale has filled 638 of 725 beds, whle Cedarbrook has filled 668 of 680 beds. Gracedale is county-managed, while Cedarbrook's leadership is private.

Second, Cedarbrook, unlike Gracedale has two facilities in Fountain Hill and South Whitehall. Only South Whitehall is actually licensed. A cording to Muller, "We cannot sell our beds at Fountain Hill. If we wanted to sell the facility, we'd have to work out some deal where we would sell it to somebody contingent upon them applying for a license, getting a license for those beds."

Third, Cedarbrook is actually projected to earn $3.5 million next year. But because of the debt service on multiple nursing home bonds and he $2.4 million cost of health insurance for retirees, the County will have to kick in $2.1 million.

Fourth, if Lehigh were to lease Cedarbrook, it would still lose $932,000 per year. That's because the cost of retiree health insurance would actually increase.

Fifth, if Lehigh were to sell Cedarbrook, it would have to pay off all the bonds and other loans. The retiree health insurance cost would increase, just like with a lease. Assuming a sale for $26.6 million, the County would walk away with just $317,973.

Muller indicated that "we intend to maintain our four star rating. We have no intention of going below that. The best Gracedale has ever hit was 3.68, briefly, ... . There's a lot of money in those little tenths of a point." Muller also stated hat Cedarbrook is getting away from housing four residents in one room to make the home more attractive to aging baby boomers.

Earlier that evening, Cedarbrook administrators indicated that labor accounts for 66% of Cedarbrook's total cost. $10 million of the $65 million budget goes to pay for the defined benefit pension. They are hopeful that baby boomers will fill the nursing homes in the years to come, although they acknowledge another trend is assisted living and care at home.

Cedarbrook

Lehigh County Pays $100k+ to Maintain Coca Cola Park

Over the past ten years, Pennsylvania taxpayers have spent $1 billion to build stadiums for privately-owned sports franchises. Governor Rendell boasts that the state gets a 20-1 return on its investment while a dubious Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith dismisses this as "speculative."

At last night's Lehigh County budget hearing, the wisdom of this type of public financing, as it applies to Coca Cola Park, was debated as a result of concerns raised by a tea party member (I'm sorry, but I never got her name).

Coca Cola Park cost $50.25 million to build. The state kicked in a third, and the rest of the money came from Lehigh County, which floated a bond. The debt service on this bond is paid by an annual $1.29 million rent payment from the ballpark, as well as hotel taxes and apparently, casino money. During yesterday's budget hearing, General Services Director Glenn Solt told Commissioners that the County would be spending $100,000 for maintenance at the stadium next year, and those costs are only going to go up.

Tea Baguette: "So we actually get a profit?"

Solt: "No."

Tea Baguette: "Does anybody make any profit?"

Solt: "We hope that the operators receive a ..."

Tea Baguette: "Because we're responsible for capital maintenance."

Solt: "That's correct."

Tea Baguette: "Is there any way to change that?"

Solt: "No. It's a lease. It's the same as if you or I signed a lease to rent a property."

Tea Baguette: "How long is the lease?"

Solt: "29 years. 29 seasons."

Percy Dougherty: "I think also we should remind everyone that the money we're talking about for the ballfield is not property tax money. That is coming from the lease on the stadium and from other sources, so none of the money is property tax money."

Glenn Eckhart: "Yeah, we're using gambling money."

Dougherty: "The hotel tax is down significantly."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole point of legalizing gambling was to provide property tax relief, not to finance sports stadiums. What happens when there isn't enough hotel tax and gambling revenue to pay the debt service on the ballpark bond as well as the rising maintenance costs? There is little doubt that Coca Cola Park is, at least in my mind, the Lehigh Valley's most beautiful attraction. But aren't we really just making rich people richer?

Up in the Sky, It's Superclerk!

Because she manages four separate row offices in Lehigh County, I call her Superclerk. And last night, Clerk of Judicial Records Andrea E. Naugle went through her budget presentation faster than a speeding locomotive. Maybe she does have super powers. Or maybe, as a smiling Comm'r Percy Dougherty made very clear, "You've saved us lots of money."

Asked by Commissioner Dan McCarthy about e-filing, Naugle answered, "Which office?" She indicates that 53% of all real estate instruments are now being e-recorded in the Recorder of Deeds. In the Civil Division, e-filing will be operational by the end of the year. In the Wills office, she noted that the originals are needed, but probated wills have been scanned back to 2005. That leaves the Criminal Division, where the state has imposed its own system.

Naugle indicates that since real estate business is down, she wants to take workers from that office and cross-train them in Civil, Criminal and Wills.

And then she just flew off.

Rising Tide Offering Small Business Loans Up to $75,000

From CACLV: Representatives of the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund announced today a new loan product available to small business owners in the Lehigh Valley. The Small Business Opportunity Fund will offer loans up to $75,000 to small business owners, a significant increase over the existing Rising Tide microloans, which are capped at $35,000.

At a press conference held at Anthony Ashley Hair Design, located at 1740 Allen Street in Allentown, Rising Tide officials commented on the challenges many small businesses are having gaining access to credit. Rising Tide Community Loan Fund President Steve Melnick said, “This challenge is significant and overcoming it may be the difference between surviving this recession and not.” Anthony Ashley is owned by successful Rising Tide borrower Jeannine "Nina" Tulio, pictured above, who also spoke at the event.

Chris Hudock, Director of the Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, explained that the Small Business Opportunity Fund will help meet the needs of more Lehigh and Northampton County business owners. According to Hudock, “Historically, about 20% of the people who contact us request more than the $35,000 amount. This new product will allow us to reach a broader range of owners and keep more jobs and commercial properties in our neighborhoods.”

Kevin Rogers, Vice President of PNC Bank, which invested $100,000 to capitalize the Small Business Opportunity Fund, expressed his bank’s enthusiasm for investing in a lending vehicle to make loans banks once made as a matter of routine, but which the current climate has made especially difficult. Other investors in the new loan product include Embassy Bank, First Niagara Bank, KNBT, Susquehanna Bank, Team Capital Bank, TD Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, Lehigh and Northampton counties (through their Community Development Block Grant, and the U.S. Treasury through the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. Their combined contributions total more than $900,000 in funding.

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham also spoke at the press conference, representing Lehigh County’s $100,000 investment in the new loan fund. Cunningham expressed the county’s respect for the Rising Tide’s efforts to create opportunities for businesses to grow as we work toward economic recovery.

Tulio, who obtained a loan from the Rising Tide in April, 2006, and has since repaid in full, described the success her business has seen over the last several years. “Although the loan was only for $5,000,” Tulio says, “that start-up money was crucial. I had a credit score of over 700 and I still couldn’t find a bank that would even talk to me. This loan was the reason I could stay in business.” As the only entirely organic salon in the Lehigh Valley, Anthony Ashley Hair Design has since grown from a one-woman business in a 600-square-foot shop to a total of 4 stylists in a 1,600-square-foot location.

The Rising Tide has granted a total of 81 loans to women, minorities and low-to-moderate income businesses. Total investment? $1.58 million. Of these 81 loans, 35 are paid-in-full. Only 5 loans, totaling $48,000, have been written off as uncollectable. That's a charge off ratio of just 3.03%.

These loans have led to the creation of at least 131 jobs and helped to retain 98 more. The Small Business Opportunity Loan Fund is a separate Rising Tide loan product from the micro-loan product that provided these loans. A subsidiary of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Rising Tide helps build economic opportunity across the Lehigh Valley by providing affordably priced credit products to small businesses and prospective entrepreneurs.

For other posts about Rising Tide, see Did You Know CACLV Likes Small Businesses? and CACLV Helps Dogs Keep Up With Latest Fashions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Easton Eagles: Casino Casualty?

The Easton Eagles, located off of Sullivan Trail, was for years a popular weekend gathering spot. Women loved it because they could dance. Men liked the booze ... and the occasional illegal poker machine. Cops usually looked the other way. But this was pre-casino.

I've been there for weekend dances, wedding receptions and birthday parties, too. But like many social clubs, the Eagles have fallen on hard times, struggling with real estate taxes every year. This year, it's cashing in its chips. The building is padlocked. On October 30, at 10 AM, Dotta Auction House will sell the real estate and everything in it.

LV State House Delegation: Altar Boys & Choir Girls

If Monkey Momma thinks it's hopeless, odds are that many of you second that emotion. Here's her reaction to last week's post about State Rep. Jennifer Mann's love affair with engineering and architectural colossus Vitetta:

"Oh Bernie, it's just business as usual. Why does this type of thing surprise anybody? Why else would a politician BE a politician,u if not to make deals that benefit friends and family?

"Obviously, Mann's relationship with Vitetta is inappropriate and unethical. But, who are we kidding? This happens ALL THE TIME with all politicians. It's hopeless. Mann is just a teeny tiny symptom of a whole system gone wrong."

Monkey Momma, take heart. Statements of financial interest, which are posted online for all state elected officials every year, reveal that the LV delegation to the state house, both Republican and Democrat, are mostly altar boys and choir girls.

It's really sad.

They must report the following: all real estate transactions involving the state or a local government; all sources of income in excess of $1,300; all sources of gifts that aggregate $250; and all transportation, lodging or hospitality in excess of $650.
I've looked at the latest reports filed by Karen Beyer, Joe Brennan, Doug Reichley, Steve Samuelson, Bob Freeman, Rich Grucela, Marcia Hahn, Julie Harhart, Gary Day andJennifer Mann. Other than Mann, none of them is a consultant for anyone. Karen Beyer and Joe Brennan actually list their spouses's employers. Steve Samuelson, Marcia Hahn and Julie Harhart report having no outside income at all. Doug Reichley and Rich Grucela list county pensions. Bob Freeman lists income from Lehigh University from a Bethlehem rental property. Marcia Hahn did win a raffle at Mount Airy Casino.

The only report that concerns me - other than Mann herself - is Gary Day's outside income from the Estate of Fred Jaindl. Blogger Dave Najarian actually raised that question over two years ago, but I don't know hat he ever got an answer. Jaindl used to threaten to build quarries and turkey farms unless local governments allowed him to build McMansions.

Unfortunately, when people like Mann or Day do begin moonighting, the state does not require them to reveal the actual sums being paid. I asked Mann, and she flat out refused to tell me te exact amount she is getting from Vitetta.

All deny receiving any gifts ($250 or more). The only state house member who allowed anyone to pay for transportation and lodging is Jenn Mann. She reports $1037.15 in transportation costs paid by DLC.

Are you telling me these yo-yos never scored tickets to a Phillies or Eagles game? (I could understand the lack of interest in the 76ers). Not even once? This is sad.

I hope this makes you happy, Monkey Momma. It makes me feel like shit. I'd be much happier if I could prove they're a coven of devil worshippers, like Christine O'Donnell. All of their license plates do end in "666".
Updated 11:30 AM: The Lehigh County payment to Doug Reichley is NOT a pension payment. He's much too young and handsome for that. According to sources within Lehigh County, it was a one-time payment for some legal work having nothing to do with Reichley's state house position.

Bethlehem ZHB Wants Decision on Elias Expansion Now

Back in May, when Judge Edward Smith first heard the zoning challenge to a proposed expansion at Bethlehem's popular Elias' Market, he urged owners and neighbors to resolve their differences. Planning Chair Lawrence Krauter echoed that concern in August. Since that time, the Elias family has conducted an open house, at their Linden Street business. "We'll have as many meetings as we need," said Najwa Azar. Not to be outdone, homeowners are planning their own open house. But instead of open houses, Bethlehem zoners want a decision, and they want it now.

In an unusual move for a quasi-judicial body, ZHB Solicitor Mickey Thompson has fired off a letter to Judge Smith, pressuring him for a ruling. "The Board requested that I contact you so that this case may be resolved. Can you please let me know when we can expect a decision to be filed?"

Under Pennsylvania law, zoning hearing boards are subject to the open meeting provisions of the Sunshine Act, except for their actual deliberations during appeals. Interestingly, there is no record that Thompson was directed to contact the Court. When asked to explain this apparent discrepancy, Attorney Thompson declined comment, directing all inquiries to Zoning Chair Constantine "Gus" Loupos. Attempts to reach Mr. Loupos have been unsuccessful.

In Thompson's missive to Judge Smith, he complains about "several negative" news accounts. He grumbles that the Planning Commission "chastised the Zoning Hearing Board in public for this decision." He even laments that a proposed ZHB expansion, from three to five members, is a "manipulation" stemming from dissatisfaction over the Elias decision.

During a lengthy Planning Commission meeting on August 18, Elias Market did agree to give Bethlehem Planners additional time to review the proposed business expansion. But at no time did any planners offer any derogatory remarks about the ZHB. Neither Attorney Thompson nor any zoner attended that meeting.

Bethelehem City Council is considering a proposal to expand the ZHB from three to five members. But it has nothing to do with the Elias zoning appeal. Council President Robert Donchez first floated the idea in January 2008, long before the Elias matter. In fact, Donchez advocated increasing the size of the ZHB when he himself was a member of that body.

Attorney David Backenstoe, who represents Bethlehem homeowners in this zoning appeal, declined all comment.
Below is Mickey's Epistle to Judge Edward:
Thompson to Judge Smith Letter 2010-09-17
Photo Credit: Public portion of Mickey Thompson's Facebook page. Ladies, he's not just a lawyer, but a model, too!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Michael Schware: Why Did Kevin Easterling Really Resign?

I supported Allentown Recreation Director Kevin Easterling when he applied for a vacancy on Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. It appears that he's resigned his Allentown position, on the very day he paid the City a small sum of money. Nobody's talking, but it certainly looks like Kevin got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Allentown resident Michael Schware, himself a CPA, believes City Council should be a bit more curious about this personnel matter because it involves a possible embezzlement of City funds.

Members of City Council –

I read in today’s (9/24) Morning Call ... about the Allentown Recreation Director’s abrupt resignation. The article also mentions that on the same day that the former Director resigned, a bill for $1,326 was issued by the city and paid by the former director.

I am writing because it is evident from the quotes from City Council members, that Council members have not been given adequate details about the incident. Alarmingly, there is apparently little interest among Council members to investigate the matter further.

I understand that the reason for the Recreation Director’s resignation is a personnel matter and is not disclosed. However, I believe the circumstances stated in today’s article would lead any reasonable person to wonder why the resignation was so abrupt, why there was a payment made to the city, and if there was any misappropriation of city funds.

Those questions are certainly within the jurisdiction and duty of city council. This overrides any personnel concerns. I hope that city council will quickly take up the matter, conduct an open investigation, and make sure those findings are available to the public.

Taxpayers deserve to know that the city is adequately safeguarding their funds. Taxpayers also deserve to know that if wrongdoing is committed by members of city government, that such incidents are properly reported to the appropriate authorities. Again, it is City Council’s duty to find the answers to those questions and to report those findings to the public.


Updated 12:15 PM: Right after hitting the PUBLISH POST button, I saw tat Jarrett Renshaw has this story covered at Valley 610.

Jennifer Mann is a Fox ... in the Henhouse

Earlier this week, I told you that State Rep. Jennifer Mann has one relationship that really bothers me. It's her consulting work for Vitetta, a heavy-hitting architectural and engineering firm involved in numerous state Department of General Services projects. This Goliath also builds schools, courthouses and jails. She told me she alerts Vitetta to business opportunities. My problem is that she only knows about these because of her public office.

To be fair, she did clear this gig in advance with the state ethics commission. She told them she would "identify business opportunities" and "provide consulting services" concerning contracts with "local government entities" with an unnamed company. Although the Ethics Commission gave her a green light, it was based on assurances that she would make no contacts with any state agency or local government entity, would not solicit business or use confidential information obtained from her public position to pinpoint a possible Vitetta deal.

Mann did tell me that she "may have reached out to some regional schools," although she did not make the initial contact. Doesn't that, in and of itself, put undue pressure on school administrators? Does it really matter whether the initial call comes from her?

I believe she has a conflict of interest, and has gone beyond what was authorized by the Pa. Ethics Comm'n.

But what really exacerbates an already dicey question is her position as a member of the Stimulus Oversight Commission. At the time of its opinion, the state ethics commission had no idea that there was going to be a gigantic stimulus package, to say nothing of some state oversight board. It was formed two years after the state ethics opinion, and"reviews, monitors and advises Pennsylvania on its plans for stimulus spending."

One of the outfits she is monitoring just happens to be Vitetta. According to the Pa. Treasury Department, Vitetta is involved in eight Pennsylvania stimulus projects involving the Department of General Services (DGS 575-3 PH 3 WO 1, DGS 575-3 PH 4 Amendment, DGS 575-3 Amendment 31, DGS 948-68 PH 2 WcO 32), Pa. State System of Higher Education (PASSHE-PROF-2005-43R2) and the Turnpike Commission (4400001072, 4400000696 - Supp 1, 4400000697 - Supp 1). This is over $79,000,000 in stimulus contracts.

As a Vitetta consultant, she is providing about as much oversight as a fox in a hen house. And she never cleared this arrangement.

She needs to step down.

Ron Shegda's "Micro-Business" : Pa. Unemploymnet

I feel like I'm beating a dead horse whenever I write about state house candidate Ron Shegda, aka Jesus in Disguise. According to his campaign site, he's a "micro-business owner." Well, you must need a magnifying glass to see that business. His ethics statement reveals his main source of income is Pennsylvania unemployment.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

LC Comm'rs: All Hail Marcellus Shale


Don't worry. Lehigh County Commissioners have no authority to enact a severance tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale. But it does have the power to ask the General Assembly to restore funding to the local conservation districts and consider using any taxes levied on drilling in Marcellus Shale. In a Resolution sponsored by Dr. Percy Dougherty last night, that's exactly what happened. The vote was 6 -3, which Chairman Dean Browning, Glenn Eckhart and Andy Roman opposed.

I have a "cliff notes" version of last night's meeting in the above, 9-minute, Youtube movie. It includes two tea party members as well as an interesting Marcellus Shale debate.

Dr. Percy Dougherty: "The state has been reneging on its responsibility to give the conservation district, funding. W are having to cut some funding out of the conservation district this year because of budget problems. I think it's only fair that we put pressure on the state to try to restore some of this funding. The state has a big shortage of money, too. ... This particular resolution is not supporting a tax on the Marcellus. .. It is just stating that if a tax is enacted, that we want to see part of this funding go to the conservation district. ... This is an amount, in Lehigh County alone, of over $92,000. ... The conservation district is our main line of defense, safeguarding the environment ..."

"This is just an attempt here to let our legislative delegation know that we want to see them live up to their responsibilities and pay their bills.

Glenn Eckhart: "Let's not give our legislators a chance to say, here is something, where if I vote for this, I can raise revenue, and tax something. So let's not give them the option. This is about ending the dependence on foreign oil, and it shouldn't be taxed."

Andy Roman: "Marcellus Shale is a huge economic boon for Pennsylvania, and I don't know if we should be encouraging additional taxes ... . My view is it's going to produce a lot of jobs, it's going to produce a lot of revenue ... I don't know if you should be taxing an industry that's in its infant stage."

Dan McCarthy: "The conservation issue deals with the environment, our natural waterways, it deals with development and the destruction of our soils and water systems ... . This type of drilling operation is going to impact our waterways, our goundwater, our soil; we're going to have to deal with the consequences of that."

Dean Browning: "I have no problem with us calling them out for the fact that they have put in place a program and then reneged on the funding for that program. I think we should call them out. However, as part of that, I don't think it's incumbent on us to identify a revenue source for them to use to facilitate the commitment they've already made. ... We are taking a tax that has not been enacted and are already spending it."

Bill Hansell: "Those who are opposed to this should be prepared to vote to increase the funding for the conservation district."

Gloria Hamm: "Pennsylvania is the only one of 15 gas producing states that doesn't have any kind of impact fee on the drillers. Part of the impact fee should be used to protect natural resources and repair any collateral damage that the drilling causes."

Dr. Percy Dougherty (Round Two): "The state is in such a financial hole right now that they're going to have to get out of it somehow. If you do multiple choice, what is the state legislature going to do? Are they going to pass the severance tax, or are they going to pass an increase in the state income tax or arr they going to pass an increase in the sales tax? I think it's more likely that they're going to go with the severance tax. That's the way everything is headed."

LV Tea Party Invades LC Comm'r Meetings

At last week's Northampton County Council meeting, I was actually threatened by a "Save Gracedale" minister. "You're lucky I'm a Man of God," he snarled, as deputies kept him away from me. All I did is ask him what cereal box his ordination papers came from. Some people are so sensitive. So last night, even though it was raining catshit, I decided I needed a change of pace. I crossed the border and attended a Lehigh County Board of Commissioners' meeting. I enjoy their collegial atmosphere, and even wore a jacket and tie. Fortunately, there were no ministers in sight.

This is the Lehigh Valley's largest municipal legislature. But in some ways, they are a victim of their own success. Northampton County Council can count on both dailies, a weekly, Channel 69, and one or more bloggers at every meeting. WWE's Vince McMahon drops in from time to time, too, looking for new talent. I've seen it all, from gigantic inflatable rats to Council members physically threatening each other. At last night's congenial LC Comm'r meeting, there was just one Morning Call stringer.

Not enough mayhem.

That may change. The LV Tea Party has begun attending and participating at Comm'r meetings. I've been very critical of this nonprofit for its political activity and unelected leadership. But the recent excommunication of Ron Shegda does demonstrate that this grass roots group is making a sincere effort to remain above the partisan fray. It has also scheduled elections for next month. It's also very encouraging to me when anyone, conservative or liberal, takes an active interest in local government.

One tea party member, Stan Bialecki (pictured above), has actually become a LC regular. Another, Janice Bowman, films meetings with a pretty good camera sitting atop a tripod. She plans to load them on Youtube, but is still learning.

What most folks don't understand about County government is that, when a Exec like Don Cunningham or John Stoffa proposes a budget, there really is very little wiggle room. Although they sound easy, you can't really do across-the-board cuts without jeopardizing essential services. Yet on a radio show yesterday, the very first question for LC Comm'r Glenn Eckhart was whether he's proposing any across-the-board cuts to avoid a tax hike. Now Glenn is an evil arch-conservative, but even he acknowledged that's impossible.

Last night, for example, Comm'rs approved a $377,000 contract for autopsies. Another $50,000 was allocated for the transport of bodies, including increasingly expensive body bags. If you're an across-the-board cuts advocate, what do you do? Do you tell a coroner that, even though a death looks suspicious to him, you're trying to save money? Do you tell some family to throw a body on ice for a few weeks until the budget permits you to cart granny off to the morgue?

How about the workforce? Will across-the board cuts work there? Last night, Chairman Dean Browning told me that, to avoid a tax hike next year, Lehigh County would have to reduce the annual salaries of each employee by 24%. And this is after Exec Don Cunningham has reduced the workforce to its lowest level since 1990. That's not gonna' happen.

So do you let some people go? Of course, that's impossible at a jail or nursing home, which are 24/7 operations that need staff at all times.

So there really is little wiggle room, although tea party members may come up with some good ideas. They are making a difference. Last night, Stan did ask Comm'rs to spend a little more time explaining some of these contracts, and they were only too happy to oblige.

Ron Shegda, Jesus in Disguise

Yesterday, I told you that Hellertown wing nut Ron Shegda has finally been kicked out of the LV Tea Party. At their September 10 meeting, he was caught handing out copies of his latest CD, entitled "Ron Shegda for PA State Rep 136th." It even includes some of his biggest hits, like "Two Minutes of Wisdom with Ron Shegda" and "This Ron's for You!" He continued passing out CDs and political flyers after being asked to stop.

But Ron has an explanation. He's Jesus in disguise. I guess he can probably go back in time and erase this unhappy event and, while he's at it, this blog. Here's his rambling explanation, which strangely makes perfect sense to me.

"Friends, This is both harsh and anonymous. Accusers should not stand behind a French Revolution-style "Organizing Committee." Believe it or not, I am a sentient soul and recognize the writer! Very doctrinaire!!

"You expel one of Your own, present from Day 1. I have likely brought in more Members to LVTea than anyone. My name is Jesus in disguise!

"I have not 'continually ignored' warnings. No one has been more respectful. Except . . . I relied on inter-personal affections, and wanted to share, while asking with eye contact, privately, interpersonally, our new CD, when I had to go.

"The plan was enjoyment not ugliness. Jesus knew that on the cross.

"Does LVTea forego interpersonal affections? Moses faced the same problem with his Right Arm, Joshua. Joshua was 'The Rules Man.'

"Do You condemn me for my right to hand out Flyers OUTSIDE the building? I privately asked Julian [Stolz] [no relation to Joshua or Moses] if he could do the same with the remaining Flyers after the meeting. I had to go and my Disabled Sister was sick and hungry at home. Yes, a Down Lady has supported the Tea Movement more than You know! She was on the phone with me when I saw the Flyers on a table inside which I previously gave Julian discreetly. But my Sister was crying and I kept walking. I should have picked them up. Shame on me!

"3 Traits of a Christian (from my forthcoming book):
1) Always in trouble.
2) Never afraid.
3) Wildly happy.

"Community Yes! Government Less. RonS
Candidate, PA House of Representatives"

So the local Tea Party has just dumped a Christian who's even writing a book about it. Shegda, using his disabled sister as a prop, claims that she had called him from home, crying and hungry. No cookies. Funny thing. I saw her at that meeting, so I don't know how the hell she could have been at home. But I forgot. Ron Shegda is Jesus in disguise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ron Shegda Excommunicated by LV Tea Party

State House candidate Ron Shegda, who is challenging incumbent Bob Freeman, has been booted out of the LV Tea Party for using non-profit meetings to promote his campaign.
Ron Shegda

McHale and the Middle East Menace

Last week, Norco Council Prez Ron Angle invited Continuum Care Holdings, which manages the former Dauphin County nursing home, to make a presentation to the Finance Committee. "We exceeded the expectations of the Commissioners," stated CEO Chas Blalack. Wages went up between 4 and 7%. Benefits packages were "right-sized." $1.7 million was spent in capital improvements. Employees participate in a quarterly performance incentive. The home went from 60% to nearly 100% occupancy.

They made changes to make the facility profitable, including a "vent" unit for people suffering from respiratory problems.

Most important of all, Continuum execs made clear that no indigents would be thrown into the streets or denied admission. It's an "unfounded fear," says Blalack, who told Council that most residents (7/8) are Medicaid, i.e. indigent.

Dauphin's one difference from a traditional nursing home is their emphasis on rehabilitation. "We do not really want to warehouse people, but rehabilitate and let them go back to their lives,", said Blalock. That may or may not work at Gracedale.

In what turned out to be a three-hour meeting, Council members had lots of questions. Ann McHale, when it was her turn, told them she's sure there's problems, and then left.

She's a bitter beerface. She's had a tough time coming to grips with the beating John Stoffa gave her in the Exec race last year, where she even lost in Bethlehem. She's angry about being deposed as Council President in favor of Ron Angle. She's fighting a losing battle over looming changes at Gracedale.

But none of this is an excuse to play on an anti-Middle East sentiment already so prevalent in this country. A Kuwaiti real estate investment firm helped finance Continuum Care's purchase of Dauphin County's nursing home, and McHale snarked about it to Morning Call reporter Jenna Portnoy.

"For a foreign country having holdings, especially with what's going on with Afghanistan and Iraq … , I don't think a governmental entity should be involved in something like this."

Why would McHale oppose direct foreign investment in a U.S. Company? According to Pennsylvania's DCED, "Pennsylvania is the ideal choice for international businesses looking to establish a presence in the United States." Some of the Lehigh Valley's top employers, like B. Braun (German) and Essroc (Italian) are foreign.

I suspect McHale is lobbing every grenade at her disposal in an effort to prevent fellow Council members from learning what exactly has happened in other counties that sold their nursing homes. I've never heard her grumble about Braun, Essroc or other foreign investors.

But this one is from the Middle East. In fact, it's from Kuwait. We fought a war so that country could remain independent, but is its business to be discouraged from investing here? Must we refuse to listen to a presentation by an American company that accepted some dirty Arab money? What the hell does Afghanistan have to do with Kuwait?

What McHale is really doing is playing on the latent and not-so-latent prejudice by many Americans against the Middle East. It's OK to be anti-Semitic so long as the Semite is an Arab.

King Edwin Can Finally Enjoy His Mancave

Here's a shocker.

Jarrett Renshaw reports that three members of Allentown's Ethics Board have cleared Mayor Edwin Pawlowski of all wrong-doing as a result of home renovations he started last year and continued throughout this summer, including a nice new mancave. Pawlowski failed to get permits until this blog dropped a dime on him.

Dr. Bob Romancheck, Lou Hershman and City Council VP Michael Donovan had all raised concerns about this failure, but none received invitations or notices of yesterday's hearing. They all expressed a concern that the Mayor needed to clear the air, but no opinion was distributed to the public. In fact, the three members who voted did so online. Jarrett had to ask them to vote in public, something they had already done behind closed doors.

I didn't see this one coming.

Updated 5:45 PM: - Ethics Opinion Online! - Jarrett Renshaw has posted the Ethics Board Opinion at Valley 610. It indicates he both failed to obtain a permit in a timely manner, and he underestimated the actual cost of the work. Then they give him a pass. After all, he's the Mayor.

"Declaration of Democratic Principals(?)" Unveiled by Senate Candidates Today

So around 10 AM today, a bunch of Democratic state senate candidates will solemnly gather at Harrisburg's capitol steps and announce what a news release actually calls a "Declaration of Democratic Principals[sic]."

They claim their Declaration will detail "commitments to jobs, education, reform, transportation and the unalienable rights of every Pennsylvanian citizen."

How about a commitment to learn the difference between "principle" and "principal"?

Democrats are in control of the House. It seems that no matter what the party, the chief commitment of these legislators is to themselves. Pennsylvania's 233 legislators have a support staff of nearly 3,000, although some staffers claim it's really lower. 182 of these employees make more than their bosses ($78,314), and they all get to participate in a defined benefit pension plan.

I'm not seeing much movement from either party to do anything about this bloated staff.

LVPoliblgger Chris Casey Picked Up By HufPo

LVPoliblogger Chris Casey has been picked up by Huffington Post as part of their "citizen journalism unit." His first article, which touches on the ad war in the Carney-Marino Congressional race, can be seen here.

Don't tell the Gatekeepers. Congrats, Chris.

Glenn Eckhart to Discuss LC Budget on WAEB

I stopped listening to WAEB a few years ago, when Bobby Gunther Walsh and John Brinson once stated that they only wanted to hear from people who thought invading Iraq was a terrific idea. Don't tell anybody, but I finally tuned in last week to listen to Allentown watchdog Lou Hershman. He's not in it to help the unions or developers or as a springboard to his next political office. He just cares about the City, and that came across.

Walsh will host Lehigh County Comm'r Glenn Eckhart today.at around 8:45 AM on WAEB 790 AM. (You can livestream it here). Glenn will discuss the 16.!% tax hike looming in Lehigh County.

Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle has already suggested that Lehigh start some buffalo hunting expeditions at the Trexler Game Preserve,and has offered to be a guide.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

John Callahan's Latest "Jobs Plan"

ObamaCare = Unfunded Mandate for Norco Gov't

From last Thursday's Council meeting, an exchange revealing an unfunded mandate to Northampton County as a result of the health care overhaul. Your property taxes will pay for it:

John Stoffa:
"I want to alert you to a concern I have, which is 1/1/11, the caps come off, the major medical for our retirees with a new plan., its a $12,500 cap. That comes off. We have roughly 700 [retired] employees. We don't know what that's going to mean but it's going to mean more money. ..."

Ron Angle: "This was part of the Obama health care plan, am I correct?"

Stoffa: "Yes."

Angle: "Is the federal government furnishing money for their plan?"

Ann McHale: "Yeah, yeah, they are."

Stoffa: "Interestingly enough, they do have a piece, and we have people applying for that for a certain age range, but it's not going to cover the full cost in no way, shape or form."

Angle: "Another unfunded mandate."